There was still about fifteen minutes of playing time left when the alarm on my phone chirped. I turned to the other blanket.
“Mrs. Tran? We’re going to go watch our friends on the cross-country team and then the football team. Sarah knows where to find us. Do you want us to take Crystal with us?”
I could see the hesitation in Mrs. Tran’s face, but she didn’t answer me. Instead, she turned to her husband. “What do you think? I would hate for Crystal to get lost.”
He signed something to his daughter. I watched their silent exchange until he turned back to me.
“Crystal would love to join you. She promised she’ll stick with you the entire time.”
“Great!” I smiled as I got to my feet. Crystal joined me and we followed my friends along the path that ran between the fields and the TRAC.
Dre looked around as we approached the cinder track. “So, did Leif tell us where to find him?”
Noah shook his head. “He said he was starting and finishing here, but had no idea what the course would be.”
Caroline pointed in the direction we had come. “I thought I saw some people running along the path a little while ago. Not the one we were on. That other one. Between the fields and those trees.”
Dre pointed to the track. “Oh! I know that girl.” Without waiting for us, Dre jogged towards a girl stretching in the grassy center of the track. The rest of us waited near a clump of spectators.
Dre smiled as she returned. “Okay. The thirds team is already on the course. It’s basically all the paths and through the woods. This is the finish line. According to . . . Ugh, I already forgot her name. But, she said Leif’s heat should be back soon.”
There was an explosion of cheering further up the path. I turned to watch as the first runners rounded the corner, making their way down the hill towards the finish line. Leif and a boy from the other school were running beside each other, leading the pack. They hit the straight away that led to the finish line. It looked like Leif was sprinting as fast as he could. He beat his opponent by nearly a full second. He ran a few more paces before slowing to a walk. I watched him make a full lap around the cinder track, gradually reducing his speed while the rest of his heat came in and the coaches announced the times. As the JV girls lined up for their turn, Leif grabbed a water bottle and came to join us.
Noah slapped him on the back. “Great job.”
We all stood around, cheering as more runners trickled in. One of the coaches announced that Hartfield had taken first and third in Leif’s heat. He nodded and turned his attention back to us.
“Coach is going to use these times to help place us. If I beat enough runners, I may be able to move up later in the season.”
Pete smiled. “Maybe varsity?”
“I doubt it. I’m not as fast as those guys. But, my goal is to be on JV by Parents’ Weekend.”
Caroline glanced at her watch. “Is football still playing?”
Pete shrugged. “We should go.”
Leif nodded towards the track. “I’ve gotta wait until the last runners cross the finish line, then there’s a quick team meeting. I’ll meet you at the varsity game.”
With waves all around, I followed my friends down the hill to the JV football field, sunken beneath the road in front of the TRAC. As we walked, I texted Crystal to explain the schedule.
There were no bleachers on the field, so I searched the hill, which was neither large nor steep, for the ideal spot to watch the game. Bella was sitting near the fifty-yard line, about halfway up the hill. She smiled as us as we joined her.
“Hey! I figured I’d save us some seats. Walter’s number twenty-three and your other friend. Luke?”
Dre raised her eyebrows. “Larry?”
“Yeah. Him. He’s number seven.”
Dre settled beside Bella. “How we doing?”
“Hartfield’s losing, thirteen to six. It’s the fourth quarter. I think about three minutes left? I’ve been trying to keep track on my phone since there’s no scoreboard.
Caroline sighed. “Oh, it’s almost over.”
Dre shook her head. “My brother’s been playing forever. Trust me. Three minutes means at least ten real minutes. How may timeouts are left?”
Bella shrugged. “I wasn’t keeping track.”
I glanced at my watch. “The varsity game is gonna start soon.”
Caroline frowned. “Andy doesn’t think he’s starting. Let’s watch the end of this game like we planned.”
Bella surged to feet, screaming loudly. I turned my attention back to the field. Walter and Larry were running along opposite sides of the field. I glanced at the cluster of players near the forty-yard line, finding a player getting ready to pass the ball. Just as he threw it, he was tackled by someone on the opposite team. The ball missed both Larry and Walter.
Bella sat with a huff. “Man! They were so close.”
I sent Crystal a few texts, explaining we would be staying until the end of the game and mentioning that Larry and Walter were playing. She wanted me to point out Larry. Apparently, she had heard a lot about him from her sister.
We watched as the teams reformed their lines. A moment later, Walter and Larry again took off running. We all jumped to our feet as we screamed for our friends. This time, Larry managed to catch the ball near the thirty-yard line. He kept running. There were no players anywhere near him and he made it into the opponent’s end zone to score.
We were all jumping and screaming, watching the players celebrate in their end zone. When they reformed their lines, I turned to Dre.
“I thought they just scored.”
She nodded, her eyes never leaving the field. “They did. They’re going for the extra point so they can tie the game.”
I had no idea what she meant. I watched as one of the Hartfield players took a few giant steps away from the rest of the line. A moment later, everyone began tackling each other and the player kicked the ball high into the air.
A buzzer sounded. The ball missed the goalposts. Dre sighed.
“Oh well. It was a good game. Really close. Should we go check on varsity now? It’s probably started.”
Bella gasped. “I was supposed to be there early for pep squad! I better go. See you all later!”
I just shook my head, watching Bella run towards the varsity field. The rest of us followed at a much more leisurely pace.
Unlike every other game we had attended, this field had bleachers. A lot of them. The side closest to the parking lot was lined with several small metal bleachers upon which sat a smattering of people wearing the colors of the opposing team. The other side contained a bank of wooden bleachers built into the hill. It was packed with students decked out in the Hartfield colors.
As we approached, my phone signaled an incoming message. After checking the readout, I scanned the bleachers, finding Sarah and the rest of our field hockey friends sprawled out on the last two rows closest to us. I tapped Dre on the shoulder before pointing to my roommate.
As we climbed up the steps, an announcer introduced the starting players for both teams. Crystal and I joined Sarah in the back row while everyone else sat in front of us. After giving her a big hug, Sarah fell into a silent conversation with her sister. I turned my attention to the field.
The players were lining up in the center. A whistle blew and they started running towards each other. I had no idea what was going on. Not only was Dre in front of me, she was several people away. Too far for me to ask her for an explanation. Sarah might have understood the game, but she was too busy talking to her sister.
About twenty minutes after we sat down, Larry and Walter arrived. According the scoreboard, we were only ten minutes into the game, although I wasn’t exactly sure how that worked. No one had scored and I had absolutely no idea who had possession of the ball.
Thanks to the hill, the back of the bleachers was not very high above the ground. While Larry scaled up the back to settle himself on Sarah’s left, Walter walked up the steps to sit on my right.
I groaned. “I have no idea. I have no clue what’s going on.”
He laughed, turning his attention to the field. We sat in silence while the players moved around the field until a whistle blew. I was surprised to see them line up back where they had started. I turned to Walter.
“Okay. Why are there do-overs?”
He sent me a confused look. “Huh?”
“They’re lining up where they just were. They dropped the ball. Why do they get another chance?”
“You really know nothing about football.” Walter sighed, but he was smiling as he explained the concept of downs. It took a few plays, but after his explanation, I was able to follow the game a little easier. It was actually more entertaining than I had expected.
When there were about two minutes left in the first quarter, Hartfield had possession of the ball and missed their third attempt to get past the opponent’s twenty-yard line. I watched as several players left the field and others entered. I looked at Walter.
“But, I thought they had another do—I mean, down. Why’d they change players?”
Walter’s eyes were glued to the game. “They’re thirty yards away from the goalposts, so they’re gonna let the kicker try it. It’s only three points, but it will help them get the lead.”
A whistle blew and I turned back to the field. A large guy from the other team broke through the line, barreling right into the kicker as he was running towards the ball. Someone else grabbed it and started running. A whistle blew and players began to change positions. But, the kicker was lying motionless where he had landed.
There was a commotion as the referees and coaches huddled around him with the trainer. Even though I had no idea what was going on, I found I couldn’t look away. It took several minutes before the kicker was helped off the field by the trainer and one of the coaches. When the crowd began clapping, I joined in. The player cradled one arm close to his body as the trainer led him to a golf cart he had driven onto the field. I watched them speed off to the TRAC before returning my gaze to the players reforming their lines on the field.
The announcer never mentioned what had happened to the kicker and I forgot about him as the game continued. When the quarter ended, Walter explained to me that the players were switching sides so they could go in the opposite direction, although he didn’t seem to be able to explain why. The best he could come up with was because that’s just how the game is played.
Eventually, the other team scored a touchdown, missing their extra point, making the score six to nothing. Hartfield ended up with possession of the ball and were at the opponent’s twenty-yard line when they started having trouble again. The announcer’s voice rang across the field.
“Third former Andrew Williams, number twenty-eight, will be kicking for Kevin Sanders, who injured his shoulder at the end of the first quarter.”
I jumped to my feet, along with my friends. We cheered as loudly as we could as Andy made his way onto the field. He spoke to another player before taking a few steps backward and nodding to his teammate.
The ball moved so quickly, I almost missed the play. Someone in the line passed it to someone else. That person held it steady while Andy ran towards it. After his kick, he stood where he was. We all watched the ball sail through the air, straight through the goalposts.
Everyone, players and fans alike, started screaming. Even though Hartfield was losing, the score was now closer than it had been.
Saturday, September 16
(Author’s Note: I could use your help! What should Melinda write about today?)
Pat’s story will begin in March